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Shush! Growing Up Jewish Under Stalin

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Shush! Growing Up Jewish Under Stalin: A Memoir
By Emil Draitser. (University of California Press, Berkeley: 2008. Pg. 320. 22 B/W Photographs, 1 Line Illustration.) ISBN: 978-0-520-25446-6.

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - August 25, 2008

Shush! Growing Up Jewish Under Stalin is a compelling memoir by Emil Draitser about growing up in the Soviet Union, the development of his Jewish identity, and his eventual immigration to the United States. Written with warmth and passion, Draitser gives the reader an intimate peak into his life, his family, and his thoughts. In the process, Draitser presents the reader with an unprecedented glimpse into what life was like for Jewish people living under Stalin, especially in Odessa, where he grew up. He also examines the institutionalized antisemitism that so impacted the lives of Jews living in Stalinist Russia, and how the prevalence of antisemitism in everyday life caused Soviet Jews to try and hide their Jewish identity.

More important, Draitser explores how this pervasive antisemitism made him uneasy about his own Jewishness, and made him question is identity as a Jew. This memoir ends with the death of Stalin. Within its pages, you'll also get a glimpse of what Draitser's life has been like since he left Russia and immigrated to the United States. Along the way he provides an untarnished glimpse at Jewish life before the Revolution, told via stories about his grandparents and other relatives. While a goodly part of this memoir is bleak, it is also filled with joy and humor, especially when Draitser is speaking about his family and the more intimate moments of his life.

Draitser is a Professor of Russian at Hunter College. He is also a prolific author, having penned numerous books and articles. He brings not only his writing skills to this work, but also his humor, his memories, and a wonderful sense of Yiddishkeit.

This book is a must read for anyone with an interest in Jewish History, the Social history of the Soviet Union, and in simply reading a well-wrought and compelling account of one man's unforgettable life.


Related Reviews:

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Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood in Poland Before the Holocaust.

The Worlds of S. An-sky, by Gabriella Safran and Steven J. Zipperstein.
A Russian Jewish Intellectual at the Turn of the Century. A collection of sixteen essays on An-sky, written by scholars in a diverse range of fields including history, literature, anthropology, Slavic and Jewish studies. Includes a music CD containing Russian and Yiddish songs.

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